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A’s Doing Great — And Could Be A Bit Smarter Sometimes

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MLB: Oakland Athletics at New York Yankees
“Lou, the way you protected that 10-run lead made we want to bounce into a triple play!”
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

You could do a lot worse, for sure. The A’s have a front office that turns pennies into contenders, a manager you hope will stay forever, and a first baseman with a Mensa level Baseball IQ. That being said, despite starting June 13-2 Oakland has had outbreaks of, if not a case of the stupids, at least a case of the chronically unwise. Some examples…

- Bless his managerial heart, but BoMel has to get over treating a four-run lead like a save situation in a playoff game. The only reason Lou Trivino was not available Saturday is that he had worked Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

Thing is, he didn’t need to. Wednesday’s appearance was to protect an 8-4 lead in the 9th and if Trivino rests Wednesday along with Thursday’s day off, he can pitch Friday and Saturday no problem. Earlier in that game, two perfect candidates had been up and throwing: Deolis Guerra and Cam Bedrosian.

For Guerra, it would have been a great opportunity to get an inning in the for an off-day, in case he was needed for long relief on the road trip. As it stands, Guerra has literally not thrown a pitch in a game in the month of June. Clearly the A’s don’t trust Bedrosian, yet the most runs he has allowed in an A’s uniform is 0, which is pretty far from a 4-spot.

By not trusting a four-run lead to someone else, Melvin set it up so that he had to rely on both Burch Smith and Jesus Luzardo in a much tighter game. Leo Durocher famously said, “Never save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain.” Well that was before climate change, and it applies better to a playoff series than it does to a game in June.

Your “plus” relievers only have so many bullets to fire. Fire them wisely and stop acting like Guerra and Bedrosian can’t be trusted to hold a 4-run lead for a single inning.

- I don’t think you need me in order to rail on Sean Murphy bailing out Aroldis Chapman by swinging at a pitcher’s pitch from a reliever who couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with an elephant. if you were going to swing at a pitch there, at least it needed to be up and out over the plate, and then if you rip it to 3rd for a triple play then oh well.

But I want to go deeper into Murphy’s approach and generalize the problem. Murphy is batting .214, instead of the .270 he is capable of hitting, precisely because he is obsessed with pulling the ball when he has all the tools to be an elite all-fields hitter. One hint that a batter is pull happy is that he starts his swing early, and as a result winds up fooled and chasing a lot of breaking pitches in the dirt. Sound familiar?

It’s not just in “triple play situations” — Murphy bounces a lot of balls to the left side even though he has the power to get long homers to right-center field without barely trying. Contrast his approach with Matt Olson’s two-run single Saturday that gave the A’s a 4-1 lead. The pitch Olson hit was a very good pitch from Domingo German: a fastball located on the outside corner. But knowing that there was precious little defense on the left side of the diamond, Olson looked for a pitch away and spanked it sharply into left-center field.

Did he give up the chance to hit a grand slam? Sure, but he drove in 2 runs and sent a runner from first to third with nobody out. That is practically producing 3 runs and it fit the situation beautifully.

Murphy is basically a pull hitter and that’s fine. But against a shifted defense, being pitched away, and with all the tools to thrive without pulling the ball, Murphy needs a smarter approach at the plate.

- Lizard, Lizard, Lizard. The high straight fastball is not your friend. Which of the four recent bombs failed to convince you of this? (The fifth came on a hanging changeup to Jorge Soler, which at least was just a poorly executed pitch, it happens.)

The latest perpetrator was Gio Urshela, who broke a 4-4 tie with a 2 strike HR in an at-bat during which Luzardo never threw him his slider. As bad as Luzardo has been in 2021, his slider has actually been quite effective and is a real wipeout pitch especially if you haven’t yet seen it. So while that inning was probably going to go sideways one way or the other, how about a little better pitch selection and pitch calling instead of failing the same way time and time again?

All this being said, for all the weekend frustrations the A’s are 13-4 in June and as they go deep into the heart of Texas they are also deep into the heart of a pennant race. They are doing a lot right — and they can be just that much smarter, which they pretty much have to be because they are competing with teams who spend that much more.

We will be keeping a keen eye on Frankie Montas’ spin rate this evening, as spin rate becomes all the rage. Hopefully on the first random check will find no sticky substances and no gas station receipts. First pitch 5:05pm...